Lab technician who tested blood must testify in DUI trial

Filed under: Criminal Law, DUI, News Tags: by Steven F. Fairlie @ June 23, 2011

The United States Supreme Court today held that the lab technician who actually tested the blood in a DUI case must testify in the trial or an objection based upon the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause should be sustained. Today’s decision, Bullcoming v. New Mexico, relied upon the principle espoused by the Court in the 2009 decision Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, that the witness who did the testing in a laboratory must testify live in order to satisfy the Confrontation Clause. In that case the Court determined that a lab technician who tested a substance to determine that it was the drug cocaine must testify live. The Melendez-Diaz decision was based in large part upon the thinking that a lab technician who tests a substance in preparation for testifying in a court case is presenting “testimonial evidence.” If the technician had been recording weather data for a governmental agency and not for use in a particular court case, then the evidence may be able to be presented by someone other than the person who did the testing.

In Bullcoming the lab report concluded that the driver’s BAC was well above the legal limit. Rather than calling the technician who performed the test, the prosecution called a witness who was merely familiar with the laboratory’s testing methodology. Since Bullcoming had a Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine the lab technician who actually tested his blood, and since his lawyer was smart enough to object to the procedure used, his conviction was reversed. The primary holding of the case is that where a lab technician is not merely interpreting data results, but is actually rendering an opinion, he or she must testify personally or the evidence can be suppressed pursuant to a Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause objection.

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